Reading: Luke 19:28-40
To understand the Palm Sunday reading, you have to read the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27), which does not appear in the lectionary and is rarely preached, if at all. Yet, Luke wants us to read it alongside the Palm Sunday story. It is interesting to note that Luke did not write in chapters and verses nor put titles in front of each of the sections or pericopes, as we call them. The entrance into Jerusalem was not as triumphant as we would like to believe. In Luke, there are no palms and, interestingly, no soldiers. In such a high-charged festival with so many people chanting “Hosanna”, it seems inconceivable that there were no soldiers, yet the only people trying to quell the disturbance were the Pharisees.
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ 26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
The Parable of the Ten Minas seems harsh. Ten servants were each given a mina, the equivalent of three months' wages, and asked to increase their value. The crowd expected that very soon they were going to see the kingdom of God, but Jesus told this parable to lower their expectations. The nobleman in the parable is going away, during which time there will be opportunities for those who follow him, yet others will go by the wayside. The nobleman will come back, and when he does, there will be severe judgement. So, that is the setting or our Palm Sunday story.
More background to help us with today’s reading comes from the prophet Zechariah, prophesying around 520 years before Christ was born. In Zechariah 9:9, he wrote, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Also, in the Apocrypha, 1 Maccabees 13:51, written around 100 years before Christ, gives an example of a celebration. The temple had been regained by Simon, and the Jews celebrate by entering Jerusalem “singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, while carrying palm branches and playing harps, cymbals, and lyres.”
If Luke wanted to convey a picture of rejoicing and celebration, he could have used these two reference points. The concept of cloaks being put on the ground comes from the second book of Kings 9:13 when Jehu receives homage from the crowd by taking cloaks off and laying them on the road. It was Jehu, a great warrior, who was set the task of killing Jezebel, but the dogs got there first.
The final piece of information we need to help us understand this story is the role of the donkey. A colt is either an uncastrated donkey, horse, ass, or mule under the age of four. Donkeys have always been symbolic in the Bible, whether it be Abraham taking Isaac up a mountain, Moses from Midian to confront Pharaoh, King Solomon (1 Kings 1:32-37) riding to his coronation on a donkey, or Mary and Joseph on a donkey going to Bethlehem. There is also a donkey and the ox in our traditional Nativities, taken from Isaiah 1:2-3.
Donkeys have a reputation for stubbornness but are also intelligent. I recently read that there are 40 million donkeys in the world, 96% of which are in poorer countries. Their strength is harnessed for pumping water or grinding grain. I also learnt that as well as being stubborn and intelligent, donkeys have a great sense of self-interest. This is why people trust donkeys to go down very narrow paths without tripping and why people feel safe on them. A donkey would not do anything to harm itself. Donkeys also belong in herds, in which the strongest becomes the leader and protects the others from predators, even to the extent of risking their own life. So, the donkey has this wonderful sense of self-sacrifice, which makes it a remarkably symbolic animal to use in the Bible.
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The pericope begins with the phrase “After Jesus has said this,” and we have already looked into the importance of the nobleman’s ten servants and the warning he gave that he was going away and they should put this money to work. Some did, some did not. So, we have this lowering of expectations, telling the crowds that the Kingdom of God would not appear when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. While Jesus was at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples to find a colt. If asked, they were to say, “The Lord needs it”. This suggests an amount of preplanning. Jesus must have arranged this with friends outside of His immediate circle of disciples. It indicates the network of Jesus’ followers, who we do not see or hear in the Gospels. It also suggests that this entry into Jerusalem on a colt is symbolic and is, in a way, playing down the expectations of the crowd.
Following the example of Solomon in 1 Kings, the crowds joyfully sing from Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” I read a commentary that suggests there were four types of people in this crowd and that we could potentially identify ourselves as one of these four groups. Are we the group that sees Jesus as a national liberator to free themselves of the oppressors, the Romans? Or are we part of the enthusiastic disciples that whip up the crowds, encouraging them to sing, yet have no idea of the implications of the events ahead? Or are we the Pharisees, who with good reason, do not like a fuss and do not like the status quo being disturbed, so are asking Jesus to calm it down? Or are we in the fourth group, which follows Jesus come what may, knowing the dangers but still continuing?
Our reading finishes before Jesus enters Jerusalem, but if we read a few more verses, we note that he wept over Jerusalem. The word here for wept is likened to a baby crying, so Jesus was crying like a baby, weeping over Jerusalem. The verb used is far more intense than the famous “Jesus wept” in John 11:55. We never see Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem in Luke’s account. Instead, the harshness of verse 44, “They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you,” echoes the ending of the Parable of the Ten Minas, where the enemies who did not want the nobleman ruling over them would be killed.
There is a harshness to Luke’s story. There are no palms and no “Hosannas”. Whilst there is some rejoicing, Luke’s Palm Sunday is tempered and symbolic, asking us to choose who we follow. Some theologians said as Jesus entered Jerusalem with his entourage, so Pilate entered on his huge horse with noise and paraphernalia. They enter at the same time but through different gates, again giving us the choice of following the earthly king with all the trappings, or the heavenly Jesus, who willingly took this journey so that he could be sacrificed to give us a relationship with God, which will lead to eternal life and salvation. The choice is ours.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 10th April 2022 by Rev'd Martin Wheadon
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon